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Forensic science in its simplest definition is the application of science within a legal framework. Further definitions are explored in this chapter as forensic science continues to grow and incorporate additional sciences and approaches. Forensic science is the independent input to an investigation and the unbiased input to the court. However, no matter how valuable this application is, be it at the scene, in the lab, providing intelligence, its input to the courts, position within the justice system in terms of public sector – mainly police forces or private sector with commercial providers – the industry has been subjected to many changes over the last 25 years. Questions and debate on how forensic science should be paid for, who should pay, how do we use forensic science to keep ahead of the perpetrators of crime and enable innovation, are all aspects touched upon in this chapter and will no doubt continue to be debated for years to come. What is forensic science, who delivers it and what changes have taken place since the previous edition of this book will be discussed.

Forensic science is a fascinating subject, the science is serious but the term ‘forensic’ seems to give it a sexy appeal and forensic science practitioners soon discover when talking to the general public that many people have very high expectations of forensic science and what it can provide to an investigation and a court of law. This is mainly because of their fascination with the subject, often alluded to as the ‘CSI effect’, which is a consequence of the proliferation of TV dramas such as CSI on the subject of crime scene investigation and forensic practices covering scene and laboratory investigations, digital technology, pathology and many other related subjects. The material in this chapter sets out to address these high expectations, by providing an explanation and understanding of forensic science, a discussion of its origins and how forensic science services, more frequently now referred to as forensic practice, have been developed over the years and how it now operates within the UK. The duties of the forensic scientist/practitioner and how the required high standards of analysis and behaviour are obtained, maintained and delivered also form important aspects of this chapter.

If one were to ask 100 forensic practitioners to define forensic science it is possible that one would receive 100 different definitions but it might be expected that among these the terms ‘science’ and the ‘legal process or law’ would have a predominance. This would rightly refer to their work at a scene or in a laboratory within the criminal justice system (CJS). A useful working definition therefore is that ‘forensic science is science used for the purpose of the law’. Consequently, any branch of science used in the resolution of legal disputes is forensic science. This broad definition covers criminal prosecutions in the widest sense including consumer and environmental protection, health and safety at work, and civil proceedings such as breach of contract and negligence. There have therefore been many definitions of forensic science and when the first UK Home Office Forensic Science Regulator (FSR) was appointed in 2008 the definition was reviewed and defined as ‘forensic science is any scientific and technical knowledge that is applied to the investigation of a crime and the evaluation of evidence to assist courts in resolving questions of fact in court’. More recently a UK Home Office report into Research and Development gave a slightly different definition: ‘The application of science and technology to an investigation as a means to identify a perpetrator of a crime or eliminate someone from a crime which takes place in a legal framework’. However, the application of the science and the delivery of forensic science is always changing such that the term ‘forensic practice’ or ‘forensic science practice’ is now being applied more widely to the use of science in the investigation of crime by the police and by the courts as evidence in resolving an issue in any subsequent trial. This practice will therefore more often than not require an individual or individuals to be apprehended as being responsible for the incident. As such another definition could be: ‘The application of science and technology to an investigation as a means to identify a crime and subsequently a perpetrator of that crime or eliminate someone from an investigation, all of which takes place in a legal framework’. As a consequence, the definitions of forensic science will adapt to the times but still have the foundation of operating within a legal framework.

So it is clear that forensic science/forensic science practice/forensic practice involve some form of investigation within a legal framework. However, the term ‘forensic scientist’ is generally accepted as meaning someone who works in a laboratory carrying out examinations on materials recovered from a crime scene, or relating to someone or something relating to an investigation who ultimately can appear as an expert witness in a court of law. The forensic scientist can also be someone who attends, as a specialist, scenes of crime in more difficult and high-profile cases, often as part of a team of forensic practitioners. The term ‘forensic practitioner’ is therefore more often used to include those involved within the investigative process from scene to court.

As such, those involved in the investigative process within the legal framework are subject to the Criminal Procedural Rules (CPR) and specifically Part 33 of those rules. Hence this would include the three roles—crime scene examiners, fingerprint officers, and forensic scientists as core within the investigative process, remembering that there are other equally important specialisms and experts available to advise investigators and courts such as forensic medical examiners, custody retention officers, etc. Further, with the advance of the digital technology, ‘digital forensics/cybercrime’ and those investigating that specialised area are an ever-growing expertise. The CPR and obligations of those who may ultimately be involved in giving written or oral evidence in a court of law are covered in more detail in subsequent chapters.

Confusion sometimes exists in the mind of the public between forensic scientists and those involved in forensic medicine (the latter sometimes being referred to as ‘legal medicine’). The forensic scientist, as defined above, can be involved in all types of criminal investigation but forensic medics in general restrict their activities to criminal and civil cases where a human body is involved. These are nearly always serious cases such as murder or rape and other sexual acts that will require the participation of pathologists, police surgeons or forensic medical examiners.

Overall the term forensic practitioner seems to be a more acceptable term for the courts, although the more specific terms are still acceptable within the forensic community. This lends itself to a much wider definition of forensic practice to incorporate the recovery, examination, and analysis of materials as well as incorporating the various technological changes all within the court environment. This was reflected in the definition above given by the FSR and others as noted above. The narrower definition is implied in the title of this book and the following chapters will discuss the use of science in the investigation of offences against organisations, the person and property including cyber attacks, murder, violent assault, robbery, arson, breaking and entering, fraud, motoring offences, illicit drugs, poisoning, etc. This chapter will not attempt to resolve the ongoing debate of whether forensic science is a science, an art or neither, and this chapter will not cover the probative value of contact trace materials such as fingerprints, footwear, tool marks or physical fits in the context of individualisation.

During 2015, the Chief Scientist, Professor Sir Mark Walport, published his second annual report which focused on forensic science. The title was Forensic Science and Beyond: Authenticity, Provenance and Assurance and interestingly, this report attempts to set forensic science in a much wider context rather than the traditional definition of the application of science within a legal framework.

The origins of forensic science can be traced back to the 6th Century, with legal medicine being practiced by the Chinese. During the next 10 centuries advances in both medical and scientific knowledge were to contribute to a considerable increase in the use of medical evidence in courts. Other types of scientific evidence did not start to evolve until the 18th and 19th Centuries, a period during which much of our modern-day knowledge of chemistry was just starting to be developed. Toxicology, the study of poisons, emerged as one of the new forensic disciplines, and was highlighted by the work of Orfila in 1840 with his investigation into the death of a Frenchman, Monsieur Lafarge. Following examination of the internal organs from the exhumed body, Orfila testified on the basis of chemical tests that these contained arsenic, which was not a contamination from his laboratory or the cemetery earth. This evidence subsequently resulted in Madame Lafarge being charged with the murder of her husband, but more importantly raised the problem of contamination, an ongoing concern for any forensic practitioner whether they are recovering, examining, analysing various materials or interpreting findings. It is interesting that the arsenic was related to the body and not the surrounding ground or laboratory. This could be argued as an early approach to the evaluation and interpretation of findings with given alternatives i.e., the finding of the arsenic in the body could have come from another source and consideration to background levels of arsenic in soil?

During the latter part of the 19th Century there was also considerable interest in trying to identify an individual which today would be encapsulated within the term ‘biometrics’. One approach, studied by Alphonse Bertillon, was to record and compare facial and limb measurements from individuals. This proved to be unsuccessful because of the difficulty of obtaining accurate measurements. However, it was the first recorded attempt in a criminal investigation to use a classification system based on scientific measurement. Interestingly, and in accord with this principle, forensic scientists today use the results from a combination of analytical measurements to discriminate between groups or to compare samples – hence the modern approach and greater success with CCTV and gait (the way a person walks and moves). A more successful development in personal identification was to come from fingerprint examinations. Although Bertillon is reported to have used latent fingerprints (‘latent’ inferring that it cannot be easily seen by the naked eye) from a crime scene to solve a case, it was Sir William Herschel, a British civil servant in India, and Henry Faulds who were credited with performing most of the early investigations. Faulds, a Scottish physician, is also credited with establishing the fact that fingerprints remain unchanged throughout the life of an individual. It was not until 1901, however, when Sir Edward Henry devised a fingerprint classification scheme for cataloguing and retrieving prints, that the full potential of personal identification through fingerprint evidence could be used in forensic investigations. The development in the evaluation and comparison of fingerprints is much debated and will no doubt continue. Currently within the UK there has been the removal of any specific number of points for comparison to a zero point for identification, which has placed a greater individual responsibility on fingerprint examiners in exercising their evaluation and interpretation.

Body fluid samples have also been found to contain information that can help to identify an individual. The progress made in this area has been dramatic and major advances have occurred within the past 20 years and now we simply refer to ‘DNA profiling’ to cover the examination and amplification of the DNA from a variety of body fluids and parts. However, until 1900 it was impossible to determine if a blood sample or stain was of human or animal origin, or to classify human blood into the four main groups: A, B, AB and O. When tests devised by Paul Uhlenhuth (blood origin) and Karl Landsteiner (blood groups) were used, discrimination between individuals was still poor.

The inclusion of the Rhesus test and several different enzyme systems improved discrimination, but it has only been through recent studies of DNA in human chromosomes that there have been dramatic improvements in the confidence of identifying an individual. These advances have taken forensic science to a whole new level with latent contact and the production of a DNA profile to support the identification of an individual. In fact, the sensitivity has increased to such a level that the production of a DNA profile is no longer seen as a major advance but the explanation as to how that DNA has come to be in that location has become a major interpretative issue. Since the discovery, about 30 years ago, of the application of DNA profiling to criminal investigations, the recovery, extraction and amplification of material to produce the profile has seen massive advances in sensitivity. Originally enough blood to cover a 2p coin was required, but now DNA can be recovered by swabbing or extracting an area that has no visible staining but is thought to have been ‘touched’. So we no longer need to be able to actually see the stain, it is more important to consider where and when the contact was made and the surrounding circumstances, hence the terms ‘Low template DNA’ and ‘touch DNA’ to imply nano or pico amounts of DNA.

In connection with ‘contact’, it is Edmund Locard (1910) who is attributed to the important basic overarching principle of forensic science, encapsulated in the succinct phrase ‘every contact leaves a trace’. This phrase is both well known and universally accepted within the forensic community. The relevant passage from his 1920 publication ‘L'enquête criminelle et les methodes scientifique’ translates as:

No one can act with the force that the criminal act requires without leaving behind numerous signs of it: either the wrongdoer has left signs at the scene of the crime or has taken away with him—on his person or clothes—indications of where he has been or what he has done.

Although the examination of fingerprints or body fluid, which might be present in only trace amounts, can directly implicate a particular person in a crime, other types of trace evidence such as glass, paint, fire accelerants, gunshot residues, drugs, fibres, pollen, etc., can provide links that establish contact between objects and/or people involved with a crime or present at a crime scene.

It is interesting that today, as noted above, the technology and sensitivity to detect smaller and smaller quantities – often subnanogram – does not necessarily implicate an individual but triggers the question as to how it got there, to where it was recovered from. Further it often raises the questions of secondary and tertiary transfer between people or objects. The ability to be able to analyse such a variety of materials stems from technological advances that have occurred particularly in the past 30 years. Many of the analytical techniques that have been devised offer unbelievable sensitivity and permit examination of minute quantities (traces) of material which cannot be observed directly by the human eye. To provide some indication of the amount of material being examined in these trace samples, think of a grain of sugar. This can be seen without any difficulty and weighs about 1 milligram (1 mg), (i.e., one thousandth of a gram or 1 × 10−3 g). Now consider one millionth of this quantity which is 1 nanogram (1 ng or 1 × 10−9 g). This amount of sugar cannot be seen, but quantities as small as this can be detected by many analytical techniques. Even lower detection limits (pg) can be obtained routinely with some instrumental methods and techniques. Although this is beneficial, extreme caution is required in evaluation and interpretation at every stage of any investigation and subsequent analysis to ensure a positive result is genuine and not due to contamination or any other artefact. The positive result can then be correctly interpreted to advise the investigator and support the courts of law to administer justice, the negative result may lead to a miscarriage of justice.

Rapid developments in computer technology have also played an important role in the advancement of forensic practice. Apart from their use in manufacturing instruments and producing analytical data, computers permit the storage of massive amounts of information that can be searched very quickly. With increased computer capacity has come the establishment of databases, national and local such as DNA recovered from body fluids (and sometimes tissues and hair), fingerprints and footwear marks, etc., The purpose of these being to help in the identification of an individual or items associated with an individual as well as supporting the overall evaluation of findings. These and other databases can save a tremendous amount of time and effort in an investigation and are beneficial both to the police in following their enquiries and to the forensic scientists in providing evaluative evidence and information for the courts. However welcome this may be to any investigation, it needs to be balanced against ethical issues surrounding how the information is gathered in the first place as well as consideration of individual rights. This particular point, relating to the retention on a database of DNA profiles of individuals not convicted of a crime, was debated in the European court, resulting in a review of how long samples could be retained on the National DNA database.

There is an interesting debate in connection with databases – who creates and owns a database, who contributes and what information is required to place on the database. Further, how useful will the data be to an investigator and an evaluator and interpreter of the information. Today with forensic provision being split between many providers both public and private resulting in a greater number of providers in the UK forensic market place, the provision of national databases for areas such as footwear, fibres, drugs makes this very difficult to implement.

The other obvious advance in technology relates to the area of telecommunication. The increased use of computers – fixed and mobile – has given rise to a whole new, ever growing area of forensic practice. This will be covered in greater detail in subsequent chapters.

Before specialist laboratories were established, police forces in many parts of the world relied on scientific assistance from people who, through their occupations, were able to provide the expertise required. The expertise being established by having a specific detailed knowledge greater than what one would expect a random person to have. Without a centralised system, knowing whom to approach was a problem for investigators and this resulted initially in the formation of formalised institutions which were almost invariably established as parts of universities or hospitals. Over time, these were restricted to examining and providing expertise in a limited number of forensic science disciplines, as a result, police forces took the step of developing their own forensic science laboratories. Europe took the lead in this development, with the first police forensic laboratory being opened in 1910 in Lyons, France. Thereafter, police laboratories appeared in Germany (Dresden, 1915), Austria (Vienna, 1923) and other countries including Holland, Finland and Sweden, with these last three all coming into service in 1925. In the USA it was not until 1923 that the Los Angeles Police Department set up its own forensic science laboratory. The reason for this change was the failure to obtain an indictment in a case as a result of improper handling of evidence before laboratory examination. Many other police departments across the USA followed this lead, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) laboratory opening in 1932. Interestingly, the first police forensic science laboratory in the UK was not established until 1935, when the Metropolitan Police Laboratory sited at Hendon was opened. How this laboratory started is a fascinating history. It all arose from the unofficial efforts of a constable, Cyril Cuthbertson, who was interested in medicine and criminalistics (in the UK this term is usually associated with the examination of physical evidence such as footwear marks, but in the USA it has a much wider meaning and covers most of the activities undertaken in a forensic science laboratory) and became involved in applying scientific tests that helped his police colleagues in their investigations. Following his examination of a document and his attendance at court as a witness, praise for his testimony and skills soon filtered back to Scotland Yard. The Police Commissioner, Lord Trenchard, took a considerable interest in this matter as he could see the benefits of a laboratory dedicated to his police force. As a consequence, over a period of time, he persistently engaged the Home Office over this matter and this eventually paid off. The success of this laboratory resulted in the Home Office sanctioning the development of their own forensic laboratories, under the banner of the Home Office Forensic Science Service (HOFSS), providing regional laboratories for police forces in all areas of England and Wales. The HOFSS also incorporated a Laboratory and a Central Research Establishment at Aldermaston. These laboratories were all financed from central and local government funds until 1991 when the Forensic Science Service (FSS) became an executive agency of the Home Office. Executive Agencies being created to try and operate at ‘arms length’ from the government with the longer view of being self-financed and separate from government. The FSS agency comprised five operational laboratories of the former HOFSS (located in Birmingham, Chepstow, Chorley, Huntingdon and Wetherby) and, since 1996, the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory (MPFSL) in London.

Wherever possible, facilities were provided locally but the corporate structure allowed the concentration of specialist expertise in particular laboratories so that a comprehensive service was available. Research for the FSS was carried out at one of the Birmingham sites. With the introduction of agency status came the ability of the FSS to charge ‘customers’ (primarily but not exclusively the police) for the facilities offered on a contract, case-by-case, item-by-item or hourly rate basis depending on the circumstances. Hence agency status for the FSS permitted the provision of services to any customer in the UK or overseas. These facilities were also available to the defence in criminal cases.

Where work was performed for both prosecution and defence, the work from each would be conducted at different laboratories and client confidentiality would be maintained. Other agencies which were formerly part of government departments and offer forensic science facilities were the Laboratory of the Government Chemist (LGC), particularly in the area of drugs and documents, and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), formerly the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, operating under the Forensic Explosives Laboratory (FEL) in respect of explosives. The change in status of the FSS saw the introduction of charging for scientific services leading to the initiation and development of a commercial market.

Other significant changes arose from the government's desire to level the playing field and not have it dominated by any one provider such as the FSS. Additional companies were formed either by amalgamation, such as LGC and Forensic Alliance to become LGC Forensics, or as new companies such as Key Forensic Services Limited, and many other smaller companies and sole traders. It also resulted in an increase in the non-commercial police in-house services. These major changes resulted in a competitive market for the provision of scientific services to the police and the justice system in England and Wales. The provision of services being contracted by means of a rather complex procurement process. In addition, these developments gave rise to issues surrounding quality standards and consistency, not to mention pricing and the provision of research and development in forensic practice. It is interesting to note that the UK is often referred to as the country with a fully commercial forensic provision. The interpretation and significance of this depends on one's definition of forensic science practice.

Scene investigation and fingerprint recovery and enhancement is primarily within police forces i.e., the public sector. A considerable number of other forensic examinations, footwear, digital, etc. is also carried out within police forces. The commercial providers supply a wide range forensic provision from drugs analysis and identification, DNA profiling as well as other areas of criminalistics involving various analytical procedures and contact traces such as glass, fibres, fire investigation, etc. So there is considerable debate surrounding the totality of commercialisation of forensic provision within the UK (England and Wales) – there is clearly both public and private sector provision. It seems inevitable for there to be a continued debate re public and private provision. With the demise of the FSS there has been more work performed within police forces as well as the expectation that the other commercial organisations will be taking up some of the work. Of course depending on how one defines forensic science and if that scope includes scene to court, then the UK does not have a fully commercialised provision. Crime scene and fingerprint/fingermark comparisons, the biggest workload areas, have always been undertaken within the police forces. The commercial providers now probably provide the minor portion of the provision but there will always be a need for some private input depending on the specific requirements of an investigation for niche areas.

Since the demise of the Council for Registration of Forensic Practitioners (CRFP) and the FSS, coupled with all the changes – public, private, learned society and professional bodies, there has never been a clearly communicated strategy for forensic science. Each organisation creating what it thinks is best but the lack of an overarching strategy and vision hampers the totally integrated investigative process from scene to court. Fortunately this is no longer the case, and in December 2015 the Home Office delivered its strategy for forensic science.

Within the rest of the UK the provision of forensic science in Northern Ireland is also a government agency, which provides forensic services to the province. In Scotland forensic science facilities used to be provided by individual police forces with laboratories in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. In 2007 the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA) was created to provide a corporate service to the police forces for Scotland to pull together all the forensic, fingerprint and scene examiners. This model was not based on a competitive market but provided a rather more integrated scientific service to the police. In 2011 the Scottish Government confirmed the single Scottish police service called Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and replaced the original forces.

Although the laboratories and organisations referred to above can generally be regarded as the ‘official’ ones, there is a wide range of practitioners and practices throughout the country providing an independent forensic service to clients. These include university departments, public analysts, large and small practices and sole practitioners—collectively referred to as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) or sole traders. Although these may undertake prosecution work, they have a particular role in working with lawyers retained by a defendant in a criminal case to explore the strengths and weaknesses of scientific evidence tendered by the prosecution. This may include the laboratory examination of original or new material in a case, but it will usually involve an evaluation of the results obtained by the original scientist and the interpretation offered. The latter may require modification in the light of further information provided by the client or discovered by the retained expert. Funding for such defence examinations is general sought from the legal aid.

In summary, the introduction of charging for scientific services, means that the private laboratories and other institutions, are all competing for custom from the police or in offering a service for the defence. Unfortunately, although many of these laboratories have sought quality control and accreditation of their procedures and facilities, as described later in this chapter, there was no recognised system of accreditation or regulation of the forensic science profession in England and Wales, or in Scotland or Northern Ireland for that matter. This meant that any organisation could offer and supply forensic science services whether or not it had the technical competence and experience. This has now changed, with the introduction of a FSR (2008) and a tendering process for scientific services, as will be discussed later in this chapter.

There are hidden dangers in totally ‘privatised’ forensic science services. For example, it could be argued that commercial pressures and competition could lead to compromised standards. Constraints on budgets could also restrict both the amount of work requested, the material submitted and the analytical work to be performed, not to mention how research is to be funded in a relatively immature market. Research and development is the life blood of any developing industry and particularly important within forensic science to keep at the cutting edge and in front of the perpetrators of crime. The danger with this scenario is that these restrictions could prevent the forensic scientist from providing the ‘best evidence’ based on a holistic approach to the investigation in reaching a conclusion which might either provide a court with stronger evidence to support a prosecution, or equally show that the accused could not have perpetrated a criminal act. Therefore, it is essential that these dangers are identified and appropriate controls are put into place. The key overriding philosophy is to provide scientific services from reliable witnesses which provide assurance to the justice system and confidence to the public. The significance here from the court's perspective being the word ‘reliable’. Again this can be followed up with the CPR as noted earlier.

One other historical development in forensic science was the introduction into police forces of civilians, called Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCOs) or crime scene examiners, to carry out the searching of crime scenes resulting in the collection and packaging of various materials that may provide potential solutions for the investigation. Contrary to common belief, it is nowadays quite rare for a forensic scientist to attend a scene because the aim of the introduction of SOCOs into the investigative process was to reduce the number of times forensic scientists were being called away from their laboratory work.

Over the years, the importance of crime scene investigation and the need for collection, packaging and transport of material of potential evidential value has been increasingly recognised. In earlier days this would have been carried out by a detective or a scientist, but it is now usually performed by specialists who have received extensive training in all aspects of crime scene examination including latent fingermarks, evidential traces and photography. This professionalism should ensure that the integrity of items received by the scientist for examination cannot be disputed. Another consequence of this civilianisation was the introduction of Scientific Support Managers (SSMs) to each police force. Their responsibility is to oversee the management of scientific services for the police force in terms of fingerprint identification, photography and forensic work. This has extended to include various technology advances such as digital work and CCTV. The overall role of the SSM depends on the size of the individual police force, and latterly with the amalgamation of various neighbouring police forces, individual SSM roles have been replaced with one overall Scientific Support Director or Regional Director.

With the changing marketplace for forensic science, the commercialisation and a number of high-profile miscarriages of justice there were calls for greater regulation. Following a recommendation from the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee, the government decided to create a new post—the FSR. The first full-time appointment to this post was in 2008. The FSR sits within the Home Office and operates independently to ensure that quality standards apply across all forensic science services to the CJS. This involves the setting, maintaining and monitoring of quality standards. As a consequence, the FSR makes an important contribution to the continuing development of forensic science practice to the CJS. This is achieved via compliance with the FSR's Codes of Practice and Conduct for Forensic Service Providers and Practitioners. Currently this compliance is voluntary but statutory powers for the FSR to enforce scientific quality standards within forensic science are currently under consideration within government. The Home Office is also due to produce its Strategy for Forensic Science document. It is unfortunate that its date of release will be after going to press with this chapter as this precludes the opportunity for any discussion or comments here about its content or ramifications.

The FSR is supported by an advisory council and a number of specialist groups, who develop and deliver the standards to the FSR for ratification. In 2014, Dr Gill Tully was appointed as FSR to succeed the previous incumbent Mr Andrew Rennison after serving seven years. The role to set, maintain and monitor quality standards within the investigative process remains at the heart of the position although with the number of forensic providers increasing and expanding especially within police forces this makes the FSR role even more critical.

Historically, the forensic science work performed in the UK has for many years been regarded very highly throughout the world for its standards, innovation and integrity. The implications of any changes, such as the change in marketplace and numbers of forensic laboratories means greater monitoring and reviewing with resulting actions taken where necessary to preserve the global reputation of the service and, more importantly, to ensure that it is not responsible for any miscarriages of justice. The role of the FSR is therefore key during these changes.

Listed below are some of the key dates of changes that have taken place over the last 25 years:

  • 1991 – HOFSS becomes Executive Agency – charging

  • 1994 – Using Forensic Science Effectively – FSS/ACPO

  • 1995 – National DNA database

  • 1996 – FSS and MPFSL merge

  • 1996 – Laboratory of the Government Chemist

  • 1996 – Forensic Alliance Ltd

  • 1998 – Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners established

  • 1999 – FSS becomes a trading fund

  • 2003 – McFarland Report on the FSS – two main recommendations

    • Separation of the National DNA Database (NDNAD) from FSS

    • Creation of a Government-owned Company (GovCo) and then a Public Private Partnership (PPP)

  • 2004 – Forensic Science Society (FSSoc) becomes a professional body

  • 2004 – Skills for Justice

  • 2005 – LGC acquire Forensic Alliance – LGC Forensics

  • 2005 – FSS becomes a GovCo

  • 2006 – Orchid Forensics (Cellmark)

  • 2007 – Interim and then permanent FSR

  • 2008 – First FSR appointed – Mr Andrew Rennison

  • 2009 – CRFP goes into demise

  • 2012 – Formation of Special Interest Group Forensic Science for R&D innovation

  • 2012 – Closure of the FSS (select committee) and NPIA

  • 2012 – New professional body created – College of Policing

  • 2013 – Royal Charter for Forensic Science Society to ‘The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences’

  • 2014 – Launch of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences

  • 2014 – New FSR appointed – Dr Gill Tully

  • 2016 – Home Office to issue its ‘Strategy for Forensic Science’ document.

A police officer investigating an incident will seek clarification of three issues:

  1. Has a crime been committed?

  2. If so, who is responsible?

  3. If the responsible person has been traced, is there enough evidence to charge the person and support a prosecution?

This clarification is seldom the sole responsibility of one officer and the investigation and court trial will reveal the involvement of the specialist police officers and civilian staff, lawyers and scientists. Overall, forensic practice can be expected to make a contribution to the clarification of all three issues.

In most cases there may be little doubt that a crime has been committed, but there are a number of occasions when only a scientific examination of items can inform the investigator that this is the case. For example, the alleged possession of an illicit drug will require identification of the seized material. Similarly, to support an offence of driving under the influence of drink or drugs a blood or breath sample taken from a motorist will require an accurate analysis not only to establish that alcohol or a drug is present but that any alcohol present exceeds a permitted level. The presence of semen on a vaginal swab from an under-age girl is evidence of illegal sexual activity. Similarly, the demonstration of toxic levels of a poison in tissues removed at post-mortem from a body of an individual believed to have died from natural causes will be a strong indication of a crime. Doubts as to the authenticity of a document may be resolved by scientific examination and provide evidence of fraud.

If a latent fingermark is developed and recovered from a crime scene and the criminal's prints are already in a database then the person potentially responsible for that crime may soon be identified. Similarly, the existence of a database of DNA profiles may enable initial identification of an offender who has bled at the scene of violence or who has left other body fluids in a sexual assault. Although specific identification of an offender may not be provided by scientific examination, useful leads can be produced which will enable the investigator to close down certain lines of enquiry and follow other lines to lead to the perpetrator.

Irrespective of any support received from the scientist, the usual diligent police investigator often produces a suspect and the investigator will look to the scientist to provide corroborative evidence to enable a charge to be made and to assist the court in deciding guilt or innocence. The scientific examination will normally be directed towards two aspects:

  1. Examination of material left on the victim or at the scene which is characteristic of the suspect.

  2. Examination of the clothing and property of the suspect for the presence of material characteristic of the victim or the scene.

The biological, physical or chemical characteristics of materials found on the victim or at the scene can help to confirm the identity of the suspect and/or provide evidence of their involvement or presence at the crime scene. Blood, semen, saliva, fingerprints, hair and teeth are all characteristics of an individual. Finding fibres from clothing or the characteristic pattern of the soles of shoes worn by a suspect may provide evidence of their involvement, as can any material found that may be associated with their particular occupation. The characteristics of a vehicle used in the crime, such as oil drips, tyre marks or tachograph may indicate where it had been parked or driven over ground near to or at the scene. Paint, glass or plastic from the vehicle after a collision may help to identify the particular vehicle and hence the owner who could become a suspect. The characteristic marks that may arise from weapons, tools or other items used in committing a crime, e.g., a knife in a stabbing, a screwdriver used in forcing an entry or a firearm used in a robbery, especially if found on the suspect, could provide further evidence of a suspect's association with a crime. Botanical evidence such as pollen may provide links between crime scenes and suspects; finally, even insects found on decayed bodies can assist the forensic practitioner and the courts. Much more common nowadays are the investigation of mobile phones or other digital-related software to help show communications that took place as well as locating the devices and possibly the owner as well. Clearly it is very unlikely that all these possibilities will be realised in a single case, but knowing the circumstances surrounding a case and taking into account previous experiences the forensic scientist should be in a position to exploit their skills to the benefit of the investigator and the courts.

The crime scene could be in a building or outdoors, but any search usually yields materials that are characteristic of the particular location, such as the following:

  1. Domestic premises—external and internal painting, external and internal glass, furnishings, crockery and glassware, etc.

  2. Commercial premises—as for domestic premises, plus process materials.

  3. External scenes such as gardens, waste ground and fields—soil, vegetation and miscellaneous debris.

Where the scene involves a living or dead victim, biological and clothing characteristics discussed above for the suspect will also apply, as can the digital technology.

Having established when the service of a forensic scientist might be required, we can now identify their duties as follows:

  1. To attend a crime scene (rarely), examine material collected or submitted in order to provide information previously unknown or to corroborate information already available.

  2. To provide the results of any examination in a report that will enable the investigator to identify an offender or corroborate other evidence in order to facilitate the preparation of a case for presentation to a court.

  3. To present written and/or verbal evidence, based on evaluation and interpretation to a court of law to enable it to deliver justice by reaching an appropriate decision as to guilt or innocence.

Under the adversarial system of trial used in the UK, the USA, and many other parts of the world the individual forensic scientist may be regarded as, and claimed to be, an independent witness for the court; but they may not always be regarded in this way by the courts and public. It is therefore essential for forensic scientists to be able to demonstrate competence, impartiality and integrity by attention to issues such as the following:

  1. Scientists should only give evidence on work carried out personally or under their direct supervision. However, an expert witness can interpret factual evidence given by another witness under oath in the light of scientific findings and knowledge.

  2. Where scientific examinations are relied on for legal purposes the methods used should be based on established scientific principles, validated and, preferably, published in reputable scientific literature, so that they can be scrutinised by the scientific community at large.

  3. Where the scientific findings require interpretation, the basis of any interpretation should be available to the scientific community.

It is important to recognise that the responsibilities of individual forensic scientists are personal and not corporate. Thus in giving evidence they are completely and solely responsible for their own experimental results and for the facts and opinions expressed. However, the corporate environment should be a supportive structure providing appropriate training, standardised methods and procedures, evaluation of performance and a quality management system. Attention to the latter can be a real source of assurance to the individual forensic scientist, the criminal justice system, and the public at large. Further, given the corporate environment mentioned above, it is critical that the science practitioners are also empowered to innovate and be creative in order to adapt to changing trace materials and technology.

There are many definitions of quality, but for our purposes that of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is appropriate:

Quality: The totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs. (ISO Standard 8402: 1986)

The ISO/IEC 17025 standard was adapted specifically to give guidance to forensic laboratories on both quality management and the technical requirements for the practices and procedures in operation. This standard can be considered the technical complement to ISO 9000. As a result, any organisation that satisfies the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025 will also meet the intent of ISO 9000 requirements; the reverse is not true, however. The ultimate ‘customer’ to be satisfied is the court, and it would expect there to be a total quality management system in place that will ensure the integrity of material examined by the scientist and the examination carried out, and the reliability of any testimony given. It is expected that the ISO/IEC 17025 standard will primarily cover the laboratory work. However, the investigative process is not restricted to the laboratory and the scene is equally and arguably more important so the ISO standard here is ISO/IEC 17020. The FSR has set dates for the implementation of these two standards. These standards will focus on the procedures and standards at the scene and within the laboratory as outlined later in Section 1.5. There is also the parallel argument that alongside these standards will be the standards of competency and professional judgement on the individual practitioner. Many argue that these latter standards are incorporated within the ISO standards but the question still arises as to how the individual becomes competent with the ability to make professional judgements. For further discussion on personal accountability in forensic science see Section 1.6.

The quality management system must clearly extend outside the laboratory environment, and places a responsibility on everyone involved in an investigation to maintain a ‘chain of custody’, from scene to court, and it is also argued that the standard starts upon initial reporting of the incident. In fact, in terms of the materials used to ‘bag and tag’ items, it is equally important that they have been produced under a quality management system to ensure the quality—particularly with items which may contain minute quantities of trace material such as DNA—hence the term ‘DNA free’ recovery items (e.g., swabs) and packaging. A more appropriate expression would be ‘chain of integrity’, since the court will need to know not only the identity of the links in the chain but also their behaviour, as illustrated in Table 1.1.

Table 1.1

The scene–laboratory links in the chain of custody to ensure quality in this procedure.

LinkCategoryComment
Preservation of the scene This can be difficult in the early stages, particularly when injury or hazard is involved but the police must establish access control as soon as possible. Thereafter access must be restricted to those who can make a real contribution to the investigation. 
Search for material of potential evidential value This must be systematic with careful records kept of the location of all material collected. 
Packaging and labelling of collected material This must ensure that the material arrives at the laboratory as far as possible in the condition in which it is collected and that it can be related to the source. 
Storage and transmission to the laboratory Again, preservation of the condition is a priority e.g., refrigeration may be appropriate. 
LinkCategoryComment
Preservation of the scene This can be difficult in the early stages, particularly when injury or hazard is involved but the police must establish access control as soon as possible. Thereafter access must be restricted to those who can make a real contribution to the investigation. 
Search for material of potential evidential value This must be systematic with careful records kept of the location of all material collected. 
Packaging and labelling of collected material This must ensure that the material arrives at the laboratory as far as possible in the condition in which it is collected and that it can be related to the source. 
Storage and transmission to the laboratory Again, preservation of the condition is a priority e.g., refrigeration may be appropriate. 

Even with this brief consideration it can be noted that apart from knowing the identity of the ‘custodians’ of items at each stage, the court will need to be assured of their awareness of the consequences of any deficiency in the processes in which they are involved. For this reason, in many investigations most of the process is conducted by specialist personnel with occasional assistance from laboratory based scientists. Everyone involved will need to protect the items from the twin problems of deterioration and contamination. The latter is a vital matter when a suspect has been arrested, since all possible contact between items from two sources must be prevented with proof that the appropriate actions have been taken.

Clearly, if the integrity of the articles received by the laboratory, either as a commercial forensic laboratory or an in-house police laboratory, has been maintained the responsibility is then transferred to the scientist. The methods used for the examination of various evidential materials are detailed in subsequent chapters but certain principles apply to all examinations:

  1. Prevention of contamination is a prime requirement, particularly as such small amounts of material can be examined and characterised. The scientist must be able to demonstrate that the procedures used have prevented the adventitious transfer of evidential material between two sources.

  2. Security of all items must be assured by recording the names of all individuals having contact with them. This is usually achieved by signing an attached label. Leaving items unattended in the laboratory must also be avoided.

  3. Careful permanent, contemporaneous records should be kept at each stage of the laboratory examination to avoid any possibility of confusion by assigning results to the wrong item.

  4. All the procedures and methods used by the scientist should be fully documented. These are often referred to as ‘standard operating procedures’ (SOPs) and standard methods (SMs). Forensic science providers should normally have a comprehensive system detailing procedures to be followed and methods to be used. However, the final source of assurance is the competence and integrity of individuals.

There is an increasing call for third party accreditation of forensic laboratories, in common with many other scientific laboratories and industrial organisations. In the USA this call has been met by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors through their Laboratory Accreditation Board. Under the auspices of this board the organisation, staffing and facilities of a laboratory are subjected to evaluation and on-site inspection before accreditation. A full re-inspection is carried out every five years. A good proportion of the many forensic science laboratories in the USA have been accredited by this process, and some in other parts of the world, especially Asia and Australia.

Given the smaller number of laboratories in the UK it has proved more convenient to use a well-established system of accreditation applicable to all laboratories offering testing services to a client. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is recognised by the government as the body for accrediting all types of laboratories, and in this role has established a number of standards, all of which have now been subsumed under two major standards, namely ISO/IEC 17025 and ISO 9000. The former is associated with laboratory tasks and some management aspects and the latter mainly with management issues. A second ISO standard is being taken forward, ISO/IEC 17020 for scene work and it is anticipated this will be in place in the UK by 2020. However, with a truly integrated investigative process it could be argued that one standard covering the whole process would be more appropriate. All of these processes are being internationalised through the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) organisation. Clearly, the wider recognition will be of great value to laboratories engaged in work supporting trade across international boundaries, but given the increasingly international nature of crime the concept of all forensic laboratories working to a common high standard has its attractions.

The accreditation process involves a series of steps. The applicant laboratory submits documentation, including its quality manual, to UKAS who then assign a Technical Officer and a Lead Assessor to be responsible for advising whether the laboratory should be accredited. This advice will be based on a pre-assessment visit for informal discussion and a broad review of the quality system followed by a formal inspection of the laboratory by an assessment team. At the end of the inspection the team will discuss any non-compliance found and agree the appropriate corrective action. If the assessment team is satisfied with the corrective actions, UKAS will review all the evidence and decide whether to accredit. Following accreditation, the laboratory will be subjected to regular surveillance and reassessment visits to ensure that standards are being maintained. A Forensic Science Working Group that took part in formulating standards for forensic science spent much time in defining what was meant by an objective test. Their definition is that:

An objective test is one which, having been documented and validated, is under control so that it can be demonstrated that all appropriately trained staff will obtain the same results within defined limits.

Objective tests are controlled by:

  1. Documentation of the test.

  2. Validation of the test.

  3. Training and authorisation of staff.

  4. Maintenance of equipment.

And where appropriate by:

  1. Calibration of equipment.

  2. Use of appropriate reference materials.

  3. Provision of guidance for interpretation.

  4. Checking of results.

  5. Testing staff proficiency.

  6. Recording of equipment/test performance.

Forensic scientists are required to tackle a wide variety of problems, many of which have no commercial analogue. This means that widely publicised and used methods such as those of the British Standards Institution may not be an option. The issues raised in the foregoing definition will assist forensic scientists to develop the necessary degree of objectivity in the method applied to a particular problem.

The ultimate role of the forensic scientist is the presentation – either written as a witness statement or report, or orally direct to the court as a professional or expert witness. Thus fulfilling this role, the witness is completely and solely accountable for the work carried or, experimental results presented and for the facts or opinions expressed. If appearing as an expert witness, then it is the court that decides if the witness is to be accepted as an expert witness and therefore permitted to express an opinion as opposed to the provision of fact – the expert witness is viewed by the court as rather special in that they are permitted to express an opinion. There has been much debate surrounding the role of the expert witness, specifically from the law commission. The opinions must be justified to the court, often in the face of fierce cross-examination, and the witness cannot shelter behind the laboratory manual or base an opinion on a consensus or majority vote. This requires the witness to be a professional in the best sense of the word: that is, to have an initial developed competence that is continuously maintained, together with a powerful sense of balance, honesty and integrity. Clearly an employing organisation has a responsibility in this respect, but there may be additional assurance to the court through qualifications, experiences, expertise and memberships – such as professional body membership. The latter would seek to provide evidence of competence with a code of conduct and advice on professional behaviour.

The need for a ‘professional body’ was recognised with the outcome, with government support, of a register of competent forensic scientists. As a consequence, the CRFP—an independent regulatory body to promote public confidence in forensic practice in the UK—was established in 1999. On 31 March 2009 the CRFP ceased operation, primarily due to lack of funding and unsuccessful attempts to become self-funding. However, for historical reasons it is worth devoting a section of this chapter to the CRFP.

Registration of forensic scientists with the CRFP was purely voluntary but since the scheme had the support of the government and the judiciary it was anticipated that the courts would expect most forensic science practitioners to register, as a measure of their competence.

In order to become registered, a forensic science practitioner had to be assessed according to a set of criteria as follows:

  1. Knowing the hypothesis or question to be tested.

  2. Establishing that items submitted are suitable for the requirements of the case.

  3. Confirming that the correct type of examination has been selected.

  4. Confirming that the examination has been carried out competently.

  5. Recording, summarising and collating the results of the examination.

  6. Interpreting the results in accordance with established scientific principles.

  7. Considering alternative hypotheses.

  8. Preparing a report on the findings.

  9. Presenting oral evidence to court and at case conferences.

  10. Ensuring that all documentation is fit for purpose.

The process required that candidates submit brief details of a series of approximately 60 cases that they had investigated over the previous 6 months prior to submission. An assessor would then select six cases from this list and request that the candidate submitted full details of these cases in an anonymised form. Collectively these cases should enable the assessor to identify compliance with the 10 criteria. Candidates who met the assessment criteria were then placed on the register in one of the following defined areas:

Anthropology, archaeology, computing, drugs, fingerprint development, fingerprint examination, firearms, fire scene examination, human contact traces, imaging, incident reconstruction, marks, medical examination, nursing, odontology, paediatrics, particulates and other traces, podiatry, questioned documents, road transport investigation, scene examination, telecoms, toxicology, veterinary science and volume crime scene examination.

Candidates were registered for four years before being required to reregister. Reregistration required the submission of information on continuous professional development and maintenance of professional competence. All those registered had to comply with a code of conduct as outlined below:

  • Recognise that your overriding duty is to the court and to the administration of justice: it is your duty to present your findings and evidence, whether written or oral, in a fair and impartial manner.

  • Act with honesty, integrity, objectivity and impartiality: you will not discriminate on grounds of race, beliefs, gender, language, sexual orientation, social status, age, lifestyle or political persuasion.

  • Comply with the code of conduct of any professional body of which you are a member.

  • Provide expert advice and evidence only within the limits of your professional competence and only when fit to do so.

  • Inform a suitable person or authority, in confidence where appropriate, if you have good grounds for believing there is a situation which may result in a miscarriage of justice.

In all aspects of your work as a provider of expert advice and evidence you must:

  • Take all reasonable steps to maintain and develop your professional competence, taking account of material research and developments within the relevant field and practicing techniques of quality assurance.

  • Declare to your client, patient or employer if you have one, any prior involvement or personal interest which gives, or may give, rise to a conflict of interest, real or perceived; and act in such a case only with their explicit written consent.

  • Take all reasonable steps to ensure access to all available evidential materials which are relevant to the examinations requested; to establish, so far as reasonably practicable, whether any may have been compromised before coming into your possession; and to ensure their integrity and security are maintained whilst in your possession.

  • Accept responsibility for all work done under your supervision, direct or indirect.

  • Conduct all work in accordance with the established principles of your profession, using methods of proven validity and appropriate equipment and materials.

  • Make and retain full, contemporaneous, clear and accurate records of the examinations you conduct, your methods and your results, in sufficient detail for another forensic practitioner competent in the same area of work to review your work independently.

  • Report clearly, comprehensively and impartially, setting out or stating:

    • your terms of reference and the source of your instructions

    • the material upon which you based your investigation and conclusions

    • summaries of you and your team's work, results and conclusions

    • any ways in which your investigations or conclusions were limited by external factors; especially if your access to relevant material was restricted; or if you believe unreasonable limitations on your time, or on the human, physical or financial resources available to you, have significantly compromised the quality of your work

    • that you have carried out your work and prepared your report in accordance with this code.

  • Reconsider and, if necessary, be prepared to change your conclusions, opinions or advice and to re-interpret your findings in the light of new information or new developments in the relevant field; and take the initiative in informing your client or employer promptly of any such change.

  • Preserve confidentiality unless:

    • the client or patient explicitly authorises you to disclose

    • a court or tribunal orders disclosure

    • the law obliges disclosure, or

    • your overriding duty to the court and to the administration of justice demand disclosure.

  • Preserve legal professional privilege: only the client may waive this. It protects communications, oral and written, between professional legal advisers and their clients; and between those advisers and expert witnesses in connection with the giving of legal advice, or in connection with, or in contemplation of, legal proceedings and for the purposes of those proceedings.

The introduction of the CRFP was viewed as a major step forward for the forensic science profession in the UK. However, the criteria used for registration were not necessarily ‘standards’ in the accepted meaning of the word.

With the demise of the CRFP the question was then raised about how to replace it. The FSR issued a consultative paper reviewing the options for the accreditation of forensic practitioners. The outcome, although not necessarily covering all forensic practitioners within the investigative process, was to have all laboratory functions be accredited to an ISO standard. This would be carried out by UKAS, which would not only cover the practices and procedures but also look at a proportion of individuals’ cases, competency and training records. However there still remains a gap to be filled for the independent specialist expert not necessarily employed by a main forensic provider. A further consequence of the loss of the CRFP was the loss of the register. There are other registers held by various bodies but the overall criteria to be accepted on the register varies and there remains a national gap in this regard.

Another body that has been involved with drawing up standards of competence for forensic scientists in the UK is the Forensic Science Sector Committee of the Science, Technology and Mathematics Council which is responsible to one of the new government Sector Skills Councils.

Skills for Justice is the Sector Skills Council which represents employers in the Justice sector and has recently also incorporated the Fire and Rescue sector. It was formed in 2004 and has the overarching mission to help organisations and individuals within these sectors to maintain a safe and just society. It does this through workforce skills and influencing policy at all levels to ensure it takes each sector's workforce into account. So far its greatest impact on the Justice and Fire and Rescue sectors could arguably be its review and updating, in 2007, of the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for forensic science. These had previously been owned by the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (SEMTA). Skills for Justice in consultation with industry practitioners have reviewed and developed NOS in three areas—Crime Scene (evidence recovery from the crime, Crime Scene Investigators, SOCOs, etc.), Forensic Identification (fingerprints, footwear, marks, DNA, etc.) and Forensic Laboratories (conducting forensic laboratory investigations and analysis). The Fire and Rescue Service became a subscriber to Skills for Justice in 2009 and NOS are also available for this area. The NOS specify the standards of performance which practitioners are expected to achieve in their work and the knowledge and skills which they need to perform effectively, i.e., they describe competent performance in terms of the outcomes of an individual's work.

The standards are written in a generic form to enable all the different disciplines to be described. They are presented as a series of units with each unit being divided into a set of elements. The units are listed in Table 1.2 and an example of one of the elements is shown in Table 1.3. In the latter, Skills for Justice have also set out five points to cover competence described as tools to assess competence.

Table 1.2

Professional standards of competence in forensic science.

UnitElement
1. Prepare to carry out examination 
  • 1.1 Determine case requirements

  • 1.2 Establish the integrity of items and samples

  • 1.3 Inspect items and samples submitted for examination

 
2. Examine items and samples 
  • 2.1 Monitor and maintain integrity of items and samples

  • 2.2 Identify and recover potential evidence

  • 2.3 Determine examinations to be undertaken

  • 2.4 Carry out examinations

  • 2.5 Produce laboratory notes and records

 
3. Undertake specialist scene examination 
  • 3.1 Establish the requirements for the investigation

  • 3.2 Prepare to examine the scene of the incident

  • 3.3 Examine the scene of the incident

  • 3.4 Carry out site surveys and tests

 
4. Interpret findings 
  • 4.1 Collate results of examinations

  • 4.2 Interpret examination findings

 
5. Report findings 
  • 5.1 Produce report

  • 5.2 Participate in pre-trial consultation

  • 5.3 Present oral evidence to courts and inquiries

 
UnitElement
1. Prepare to carry out examination 
  • 1.1 Determine case requirements

  • 1.2 Establish the integrity of items and samples

  • 1.3 Inspect items and samples submitted for examination

 
2. Examine items and samples 
  • 2.1 Monitor and maintain integrity of items and samples

  • 2.2 Identify and recover potential evidence

  • 2.3 Determine examinations to be undertaken

  • 2.4 Carry out examinations

  • 2.5 Produce laboratory notes and records

 
3. Undertake specialist scene examination 
  • 3.1 Establish the requirements for the investigation

  • 3.2 Prepare to examine the scene of the incident

  • 3.3 Examine the scene of the incident

  • 3.4 Carry out site surveys and tests

 
4. Interpret findings 
  • 4.1 Collate results of examinations

  • 4.2 Interpret examination findings

 
5. Report findings 
  • 5.1 Produce report

  • 5.2 Participate in pre-trial consultation

  • 5.3 Present oral evidence to courts and inquiries

 
Table 1.3

An example of an element associated with standards of competence. Taken from www.crfp.org.uk – Unit 2, Examine items and samples, Element 2.5: Produce laboratory notes and records.

You must ensure that you:You need to know and understand:
  • a. Make laboratory notes and records contemporaneously and that they are fit for purpose, accurate, legible, clear and unambiguous

 
  • 1. Why it is important to record information contemporaneously

 
  • b. Order notes and record information in a way which supports validation and interrogation

 
  • 2. Why it is important to ensure that notes and records are fit-for-purpose, accurate, legible, clear and unambiguous

 
  • c. Uniquely classify records and file them securely in a manner which facilitates retrieval

 
  • 3. What information you need to record

 
  • d. Accurately collate laboratory notes on work carried out by others into the overall records

 
  • 4. Which recording systems you need to use

 
 
  • 5. When notes and records are complete

 
 
  • 6. The systems you use to order your notes and record information

 
 
  • 7. The importance of ordering notes and information

 
 
  • 8. The classification systems you use to ensure records are easily retrievable

 
 
  • 9. How the classification system works

 
 
  • 10. How to file records securely

 
 
  • 11. The importance of collating notes accurately

 
 12. The identity of others who might wish to use the notes 
 13. The ways in which the notes might be used 
You must ensure that you:You need to know and understand:
  • a. Make laboratory notes and records contemporaneously and that they are fit for purpose, accurate, legible, clear and unambiguous

 
  • 1. Why it is important to record information contemporaneously

 
  • b. Order notes and record information in a way which supports validation and interrogation

 
  • 2. Why it is important to ensure that notes and records are fit-for-purpose, accurate, legible, clear and unambiguous

 
  • c. Uniquely classify records and file them securely in a manner which facilitates retrieval

 
  • 3. What information you need to record

 
  • d. Accurately collate laboratory notes on work carried out by others into the overall records

 
  • 4. Which recording systems you need to use

 
 
  • 5. When notes and records are complete

 
 
  • 6. The systems you use to order your notes and record information

 
 
  • 7. The importance of ordering notes and information

 
 
  • 8. The classification systems you use to ensure records are easily retrievable

 
 
  • 9. How the classification system works

 
 
  • 10. How to file records securely

 
 
  • 11. The importance of collating notes accurately

 
 12. The identity of others who might wish to use the notes 
 13. The ways in which the notes might be used 

As implicated earlier it is important to have an overall quality management system which can ensure practices and procedures, but integral to a successful profession is individual competency and Table 1.4 shows how this can be implemented.

Table 1.4

An illustrative five-point quality management system.

Type of testArea of competence tested
1 A case review. Between line manager and practitioner to assess what was done by practitioner, decision making processes, what could have been done better, review of forensic strategy, overall outcome of items taken for analysis, etcKnowledge & understanding 
2 Simulated competence test. A simulated competence check providing the practitioner with a scenario with known outcomes and based on the relevant NOS. This can include ‘blind trials’ where known items are entered into the workflow unknown to the practitioner. Skills, knowledge & understanding 
3 Observation (site visit). Line manager observes the practitioner undertake an agreed number of tasks to assess competence against agreed NOS. Skills, knowledge & understanding 
4 Knowledge test. Practitioner sits a written knowledge test which is marked by a competent peer or line manager to ensure practitioner has knowledge required to perform role competently. Knowledge & understanding 
5 Dip-sampling. A set number of ‘work products’ are sampled randomly every month to ensure consistency in competent delivery of work tasks. Consistency of performance over time 
Type of testArea of competence tested
1 A case review. Between line manager and practitioner to assess what was done by practitioner, decision making processes, what could have been done better, review of forensic strategy, overall outcome of items taken for analysis, etcKnowledge & understanding 
2 Simulated competence test. A simulated competence check providing the practitioner with a scenario with known outcomes and based on the relevant NOS. This can include ‘blind trials’ where known items are entered into the workflow unknown to the practitioner. Skills, knowledge & understanding 
3 Observation (site visit). Line manager observes the practitioner undertake an agreed number of tasks to assess competence against agreed NOS. Skills, knowledge & understanding 
4 Knowledge test. Practitioner sits a written knowledge test which is marked by a competent peer or line manager to ensure practitioner has knowledge required to perform role competently. Knowledge & understanding 
5 Dip-sampling. A set number of ‘work products’ are sampled randomly every month to ensure consistency in competent delivery of work tasks. Consistency of performance over time 

Having described standards of competence it then becomes necessary to develop a strategy for assessing scientists against such standards. Such assessment strategies are presently being developed.

The professional body, The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences (CSFS), (formerly the Forensic Science Society – FSSoc) has also been involved for many years with educational standards for practitioners offering undergraduate diplomas. These diplomas were recently reviewed and assessed at postgraduate level (Level 7) with the option of an additional Masters project to enable the practitioner to gain a full Masters degree. These diplomas are currently being run out by CSFS and replaced with a Certificate of Competence. Like the diplomas there is a strong element of practical assessment and the overall model includes the initial application, online questions in the applicant's specialised area as well as questions on the legal framework within which they work. This is followed by a practical assessment based on the typical work carried out by the practitioner and a supporting statement or report. This approach supports the ISO standards in terms of competence and professional judgement.

In terms of education, over the last 15–20 years, the UK has seen an enormous growth in undergraduate degrees in the forensic sciences and the quality of such degrees has been of concern to many in the profession. For this reason, the CSFS has component standards for which courses in forensic science (forensic science, anthropology, archaeology and digital forensics) need to meet to achieve Accreditation (full undergraduate and postgraduate degrees) or Recognition (less than full degrees). The FSSoc has been around for over 50 years, being formed in 1959 and then more recently as a professional body in 2004 and gaining its Charter in 2013. As a consequence, the society can now offer ‘Chartered’ as well as ‘Accredited’ status to its membership. The society produces a peer-reviewed journal, Science and Justice, as well as other newsletters, and the Certificates of Competence in a growing range of disciplines. In addition, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) also recognised forensic science as a subject in its own right and produced a benchmark statement on forensic science for BSc and MSc awards. The QAA benchmark statement is based on the CSFS component standards. As a consequence, all universities must adhere to the QAA benchmark statement for undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications.

Another society within the investigative process is the Fingerprint Society (FPS) which was founded in 1974 as a learned society for fingerprint examiners. The society holds an annual conference and produces, quarterly, the magazine Fingerprint Whorld. The aim of the Society is to ‘advance the study and application of fingerprints and to facilitate the cooperation among persons interested in the field of personal identification’.

Finally, one area of particular interest which has hit forensic science practice over recent years is that of cognitive bias. This is a situation when you are unaware that you are being influenced in making your decision such that you may not make your personal, independent, honest decision. By way of example, consider the situation where a stamped-in engine or chassis mark on a car or motorbike has been deliberately erased. The process to recover the number appears to be successful and some digits are being recovered by chemical treatment. During the quality assurance process you are asked check the digits and if you can see the ‘8’? The very fact that the digit ‘8’ was mentioned means you are unduly influenced as it may also be a ‘3’ or a ‘5’ depending on the style of the numbers. In fact, it might not be a number at all and may be a letter. Therefore, being provided with some information can be termed ‘cognitive influence’ resulting in cognitive bias. The forensic practitioner must therefore be aware of such situations and ask the ‘checker’ the appropriate questions, and the ‘checker’ must also ensure they provide an independent review.

Other forms of bias including contextual bias, meaning that an individual has been influenced by others and therefore their decision may not be fully their own and they do not necessarily appreciate the impact of the other information. This has been investigated extensively by Dror and can occur in an investigation and hence anyone involved must be fully aware of the impact and ensure that no form of bias will be introduced whilst performing their duties. Some of the authors have discussed bias issues within their own particular disciplines. However, for a fuller understanding of this topic, readers are referred to Chapter 15 (Section 15.2.3) and although related to fingermark examinations, the precautions and comments are relevant and transferable to many other forensic disciplines.

The discussion in this chapter has aimed to provide the reader with an understanding of forensic science and the role of forensic science practitioners within a UK forensic industry. It also covers how they achieve professional status and how the word forensic implies working and interacting with the legal process. Working as a forensic practitioner can be physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding but also can be very satisfying and personally rewarding. The succeeding chapters will show why this is so.

  • S. Bell, Forensic Chemistry, Pearson, Harlow, 2nd edn, 2014.

  • I. E. Dror, Practical Solutions to Cognitive and Human Factor Challenges in Forensic Science, Forensic Sci. Pol. Manage., 4, 2013, 1–9.

  • Handbook of Forensic Science, ed. J. Fraser and R. Williams, Willan Publishing Ltd, Gloucester, 2009.

  • M. M. Houck and J. A. Siegel, Fundamentals of Forensic Science, Academic, London, 2nd edn, 2010.

  • A. M. Langford, J. Dean, R. Reed, D. A. Holmes, J. Wyers and A. Jones, Practical Skills in Forensic Science, Prentice Hall, Harlow, 2nd edn, 2010.

  • R. Saferstein, Forensic Science: From Crime Scene to the Crime Lab, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Boston, 2nd edn, 2013.

  • Annual Report of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser 2015. Forensic Science and Beyond: Authenticity, Provenance and Assurance. The Government Office for Science, London, 2015.

Figures & Tables

Table 1.1

The scene–laboratory links in the chain of custody to ensure quality in this procedure.

LinkCategoryComment
Preservation of the scene This can be difficult in the early stages, particularly when injury or hazard is involved but the police must establish access control as soon as possible. Thereafter access must be restricted to those who can make a real contribution to the investigation. 
Search for material of potential evidential value This must be systematic with careful records kept of the location of all material collected. 
Packaging and labelling of collected material This must ensure that the material arrives at the laboratory as far as possible in the condition in which it is collected and that it can be related to the source. 
Storage and transmission to the laboratory Again, preservation of the condition is a priority e.g., refrigeration may be appropriate. 
LinkCategoryComment
Preservation of the scene This can be difficult in the early stages, particularly when injury or hazard is involved but the police must establish access control as soon as possible. Thereafter access must be restricted to those who can make a real contribution to the investigation. 
Search for material of potential evidential value This must be systematic with careful records kept of the location of all material collected. 
Packaging and labelling of collected material This must ensure that the material arrives at the laboratory as far as possible in the condition in which it is collected and that it can be related to the source. 
Storage and transmission to the laboratory Again, preservation of the condition is a priority e.g., refrigeration may be appropriate. 
Table 1.2

Professional standards of competence in forensic science.

UnitElement
1. Prepare to carry out examination 
  • 1.1 Determine case requirements

  • 1.2 Establish the integrity of items and samples

  • 1.3 Inspect items and samples submitted for examination

 
2. Examine items and samples 
  • 2.1 Monitor and maintain integrity of items and samples

  • 2.2 Identify and recover potential evidence

  • 2.3 Determine examinations to be undertaken

  • 2.4 Carry out examinations

  • 2.5 Produce laboratory notes and records

 
3. Undertake specialist scene examination 
  • 3.1 Establish the requirements for the investigation

  • 3.2 Prepare to examine the scene of the incident

  • 3.3 Examine the scene of the incident

  • 3.4 Carry out site surveys and tests

 
4. Interpret findings 
  • 4.1 Collate results of examinations

  • 4.2 Interpret examination findings

 
5. Report findings 
  • 5.1 Produce report

  • 5.2 Participate in pre-trial consultation

  • 5.3 Present oral evidence to courts and inquiries

 
UnitElement
1. Prepare to carry out examination 
  • 1.1 Determine case requirements

  • 1.2 Establish the integrity of items and samples

  • 1.3 Inspect items and samples submitted for examination

 
2. Examine items and samples 
  • 2.1 Monitor and maintain integrity of items and samples

  • 2.2 Identify and recover potential evidence

  • 2.3 Determine examinations to be undertaken

  • 2.4 Carry out examinations

  • 2.5 Produce laboratory notes and records

 
3. Undertake specialist scene examination 
  • 3.1 Establish the requirements for the investigation

  • 3.2 Prepare to examine the scene of the incident

  • 3.3 Examine the scene of the incident

  • 3.4 Carry out site surveys and tests

 
4. Interpret findings 
  • 4.1 Collate results of examinations

  • 4.2 Interpret examination findings

 
5. Report findings 
  • 5.1 Produce report

  • 5.2 Participate in pre-trial consultation

  • 5.3 Present oral evidence to courts and inquiries

 
Table 1.3

An example of an element associated with standards of competence. Taken from www.crfp.org.uk – Unit 2, Examine items and samples, Element 2.5: Produce laboratory notes and records.

You must ensure that you:You need to know and understand:
  • a. Make laboratory notes and records contemporaneously and that they are fit for purpose, accurate, legible, clear and unambiguous

 
  • 1. Why it is important to record information contemporaneously

 
  • b. Order notes and record information in a way which supports validation and interrogation

 
  • 2. Why it is important to ensure that notes and records are fit-for-purpose, accurate, legible, clear and unambiguous

 
  • c. Uniquely classify records and file them securely in a manner which facilitates retrieval

 
  • 3. What information you need to record

 
  • d. Accurately collate laboratory notes on work carried out by others into the overall records

 
  • 4. Which recording systems you need to use

 
 
  • 5. When notes and records are complete

 
 
  • 6. The systems you use to order your notes and record information

 
 
  • 7. The importance of ordering notes and information

 
 
  • 8. The classification systems you use to ensure records are easily retrievable

 
 
  • 9. How the classification system works

 
 
  • 10. How to file records securely

 
 
  • 11. The importance of collating notes accurately

 
 12. The identity of others who might wish to use the notes 
 13. The ways in which the notes might be used 
You must ensure that you:You need to know and understand:
  • a. Make laboratory notes and records contemporaneously and that they are fit for purpose, accurate, legible, clear and unambiguous

 
  • 1. Why it is important to record information contemporaneously

 
  • b. Order notes and record information in a way which supports validation and interrogation

 
  • 2. Why it is important to ensure that notes and records are fit-for-purpose, accurate, legible, clear and unambiguous

 
  • c. Uniquely classify records and file them securely in a manner which facilitates retrieval

 
  • 3. What information you need to record

 
  • d. Accurately collate laboratory notes on work carried out by others into the overall records

 
  • 4. Which recording systems you need to use

 
 
  • 5. When notes and records are complete

 
 
  • 6. The systems you use to order your notes and record information

 
 
  • 7. The importance of ordering notes and information

 
 
  • 8. The classification systems you use to ensure records are easily retrievable

 
 
  • 9. How the classification system works

 
 
  • 10. How to file records securely

 
 
  • 11. The importance of collating notes accurately

 
 12. The identity of others who might wish to use the notes 
 13. The ways in which the notes might be used 
Table 1.4

An illustrative five-point quality management system.

Type of testArea of competence tested
1 A case review. Between line manager and practitioner to assess what was done by practitioner, decision making processes, what could have been done better, review of forensic strategy, overall outcome of items taken for analysis, etcKnowledge & understanding 
2 Simulated competence test. A simulated competence check providing the practitioner with a scenario with known outcomes and based on the relevant NOS. This can include ‘blind trials’ where known items are entered into the workflow unknown to the practitioner. Skills, knowledge & understanding 
3 Observation (site visit). Line manager observes the practitioner undertake an agreed number of tasks to assess competence against agreed NOS. Skills, knowledge & understanding 
4 Knowledge test. Practitioner sits a written knowledge test which is marked by a competent peer or line manager to ensure practitioner has knowledge required to perform role competently. Knowledge & understanding 
5 Dip-sampling. A set number of ‘work products’ are sampled randomly every month to ensure consistency in competent delivery of work tasks. Consistency of performance over time 
Type of testArea of competence tested
1 A case review. Between line manager and practitioner to assess what was done by practitioner, decision making processes, what could have been done better, review of forensic strategy, overall outcome of items taken for analysis, etcKnowledge & understanding 
2 Simulated competence test. A simulated competence check providing the practitioner with a scenario with known outcomes and based on the relevant NOS. This can include ‘blind trials’ where known items are entered into the workflow unknown to the practitioner. Skills, knowledge & understanding 
3 Observation (site visit). Line manager observes the practitioner undertake an agreed number of tasks to assess competence against agreed NOS. Skills, knowledge & understanding 
4 Knowledge test. Practitioner sits a written knowledge test which is marked by a competent peer or line manager to ensure practitioner has knowledge required to perform role competently. Knowledge & understanding 
5 Dip-sampling. A set number of ‘work products’ are sampled randomly every month to ensure consistency in competent delivery of work tasks. Consistency of performance over time 

References

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